Photo Credit: Asaf Einy
Forgiveness is a difficult topic. On one hand, we feel that we have learned to forgive. On the other hand, we find ourselves resisting when we actually try to forgive someone. Implementing forgiveness into our lives is a process.
Sometimes, things work in mysterious ways. Almost a year ago, I took a workshop on forgiveness. Some days, I would feel that I had learned how to forgive, and other days I felt that I had failed. The following is a story of a casual encounter with a stranger that reminded me of all that I have learned about forgiveness.
The other day I was walking my dog and, as I always do, I gave him a little water from the hose in front of someone’s house. I don’t know the owner of the house well. I met him once and I never asked him if I could do this. I always turn the hose off tightly and roll it back up leaving it exactly the way it was when I found it.
On this particular day, a woman I had never seen said to me, “What are you doing? Do you live there? Why are you using that hose?” I quickly retorted that I left it just the way it was and I wasn’t causing any harm to the hose or the homeowner. She told me I had no right to use the hose and gave me a dirty look and walked away.
I was so annoyed by this event. It spoiled my walk because I felt I had done nothing wrong and it wasn’t any of her business.
I even followed behind her as she kept walking away. But, then I started thinking about this workshop I had taken last April about forgiveness. There were two main points that stuck in my head: you don’t know what the other person is going through and if you hold anger, it takes away from your own joy. It is not just for the other person that you forgive, but for yourself, so you don’t waste your life angry with someone or continue to hold a grudge.
Now, obviously, this was on a much smaller scale than those heart wrenching times where we need to forgive someone in our life and it causes us great pain, but I decided to try the mode of thought recommended in this forgiveness workshop.
I thought maybe this woman is right. If she lives in this neighborhood, she could be protecting a neighbor of hers. I thought maybe she is having a bad day. And, then, I thought I don’t want to lose the joy that I have walking my dog on this beautiful day. I am going to let this go.
The next thing I knew, she was walking towards me and I thought now I am in trouble. Instead she said, “I am sorry. Giving your dog water is not a big deal. It’s just that I am on the landscaping committee of this housing area and so many people who don’t live here don’t clean up after their dogs and I am at a loss to figure out why they can’t be more responsible. It really aggravates me”.
I had already calmed down and told her I had been rethinking things and I was sorry. She had every right to watch out for her neighbors and she had no idea if I would take care of the hose or leave it running and cause problems. In addition, I didn’t live there.
She introduced herself with a smile and I did the same. It was the strangest experience as this is not normally how I handle things or how they work out. Most of the time, I can be a real bitch.
I bring this up in a long winded way because I think the most important thing you can do in 2011 is forgive someone who you feel has wronged or hurt you.
Not all of us, but most of us have experienced pain from a relationship with a friend or family member or someone with whom we work.
The memories of the pain or even continuing meetings with someone sit deep in our souls and eat away at us.
We don’t want to forgive because it feels like forgetting the wrong and we feel like the other person’s behavior doesn’t deserve to be condoned.
The workshop I took was called, “Forgive for Good” by Dr. Fred Luskin. Dr. Luskin teaches at Stanford and this is also the name of his book that I highly recommend to you.
In many ways, I think this workshop was life changing for me and I am still working on incorporating the concept into my life.
Dr. Luskin validates your right to feel hurt. He is not in anyway saying to ignore it. What he says is that dwelling on the hurt is taking away from your quality of life and damaging your health.
There had been someone in my life over the last few years who, although they had been a dear friend in the past, had betrayed and disrespected our friendship. As Fred says, “Forgiveness is making peace with the word No“.
That was the problem for me. I didn’t want to hear “no”. I was angry and I blamed this person, but in the end, I have come to realize that the way I was handling my hurt and anger was really preventing me from truly enjoying my life and moving forward.
And, if I was honest with myself, I would know that there were other issues going on in the other person’s life and it was not all about the problem in our friendship. Outside factors were affecting their behavior and probably mine.
This post is long today because 2011 is in its infancy and all things are possible, even changing our attitudes.
The “Forgive for Good” workshop inspired me to move on from hurt and blame. Forgiving was more for me to make a better life and not so much to absolve the other person of what I perceived to be their wrongdoing. It wasn’t about letting the other person off the hook and forgetting what they had done.
“Forgiveness does not necessarily mean reconciliation with the person that hurt you, or condoning of their actions. What you are after is to find peace. Forgiveness can be defined as the peace and understanding that comes from blaming that which has hurt you less, taking the life experience less personally, and changing your grievance story.”
Finding peace is the key and I found “Forgive for Good” to be incredibly helpful in this process.
I wish you all the ability to find peace in the New Year and I hope part of that process will be forgiving for good.
It is not an easy thing to do and I am still a work in progress.
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About the Author
Denise is a Stanford grad and a non-practicing attorney who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. She has been writing a blog for the last year and three years ago created a nationwide women’s network to help those who are going through life’s difficult transitions. She is a firm believer that we all go through tough transitions, but it’s easier to do it together.
External Resources on Forgiveness
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